2010-05-27 / News

Former N.K.H.S. principal loses bid to regain job

By Eileen M. Daly

Embattled former North Kingstown School Principal Gerry Foley lost his bid to overturn the N.K. School Committee’s decision not to renew his contract in a sevenhour hearing held May 19.

The 4-0 vote not to overturn was made by the four committee members who remained for the entire hearing: Committee chair Larry Ceresi, Lynda Avanzato, April Brunelle and Richard Welch. Kim Page and Douglas Roth were absent, and Melvoid Benson left during a break early on in the proceedings.

The original non-renewal vote was taken Dec. 1, 2009. At that time, the school committee voted 4-3 to accept Thornton’s recommendation not to renew Foley’s contract in 2010, with Douglas Roth, Kimberly Page and Melvoid Benson dissenting.

On the following day, Thornton suspended Foley for an indefi- nite period of time as a result of a mass e-mail Foley sent out titled, “Round two,” in which he defended his position, and stated his intention to sue the school committee and the superintendent.

On Feb. 9, 2010, Foley requested an open hearing on Thornton’s recommendation of a 30 workingday, unpaid suspension, as well as the inclusion of a letter of reprimand in Foley’s personnel file. The committee then voted 4-2 to accept these recommendations, with Roth and Page dissenting and Benson absent.

Foley returned to work in the school district on March 25 as coprincipal of Davisville and Wickford Middle Schools, where he is expected to finish his current contract.

During the May 19 hearing, Attorney Benjamin Scungio, representing Thornton, offered 26 separate exhibits of what the defense contended were evidence of more than adequate grounds for the nonrenewal of Foley’s contract.

The allegations included a request forwarded by Foley to Thornton, in which a district teacher requested professional development funds to cover a trip to Paris, France to learn Photoshop; use of student activity funds for adult golfing trips, as well as for parties for the staff, some of which included the cost of providing alcohol; Foley’s refusal to attend a training for school principals and instead sending the school librarian in his place; Foley’s refusal to respond to a request by Thornton to schedule an appointment to review Foley’s evaluation; and Foley’s inadequate completion of teacher evaluations, including at least one teacher who had not received an evaluation since 1999 and at least one teacher who had never been evaluated during the first three years of employment, when tenure is determined.

According to Thornton, that teacher should not have been retained, but now has tenure and is, therefore, significantly more diffi cult to terminate. Also included in the allegations were Thornton’s original complaints regarding Foley’s alleged failure to address the R.I. Dept. of Education’s mandates regarding proficiency-based graduation requirements and Foley’s failure to respond to teachers, parents, union representatives and others in a timely fashion.

Foley’s lawyer, Jeffrey Sowa, frequently objected to having the exhibits presented by Scungio ad- mitted as evidence, but was most often overruled.

At one point, Foley testified that he had never received an evaluation or a request to schedule a meeting with Thornton to discuss the evaluation. Scungio refuted this testimony with a memo from the school department’s Information Technology Network Manager, Richard Booth, which indicated that not only was the communication sent, but that it was marked “read.”

When Sowa objected on the grounds of hearsay, Booth was called to the stand.

What followed was a long interaction between Booth and Sowa, which ultimately ended with Booth acknowledging that there was no way to prove that Foley actually read the e-mail, but that the fact that the e-mail was sent and opened was undeniable.

At another point in the hearing, Foley, at Sowa’s direction, explained that student activity funds were not used for non-student related activities; rather, money was taken from the staff soda machines for those events. Scungio then made the point during cross-examination that, in fact, all of the funds were co-mingled into the one student activity fund account, a fact Foley continued to refute.

In response to the RIDE letter outlining numerous areas where RIDE found the high school showed “no evidence” of progress, Foley said, “I would have contested those findings.”

At one moment in the proceedings, Foley said, “I’ve given my whole career to this district. If it wasn’t good enough, then it wasn’t good enough.”

He stopped short of apologizing for his behavior following the original vote not to renew, saying only that he regretted sending the “Round Two” e-mail because it resulted in his “no longer working at the high school.”

Prior to the final vote, members of the committee shared their comments regarding the proceedings.

Committee Chair Larry Ceresi spoke to the need for accountability.

“How do we expect teachers to hold students accountable when we are not even holding teachers accountable?” he said.

He said the fact that N.K.H.S. is one of 10 “at risk” high schools in the state is “embarrassing.”

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